Since we last spoke to Nicolai Schumann (Full Time MBA, 2009), he has moved away from the fashion industry to work on his storytelling consultancy, Universal Storyteller and focus on his role as a visiting lecturer at the Business School. He also teaches innovation and business creativity through his agency Horizon Innovation Lab. We sat down with Nico to discuss his new book The Hero Inside: What We Can Learn From Heroes, which will be taught on his Storytelling in Business class at the Business School (formerly known as Cass).
Nico combined his background in storytelling with his business experience to create his course on storytelling in business which he successfully pitched to the Business School. He explains that storytelling is vital to all businesses: “stories are a very subtle and very powerful persuasion tool… everybody loves a good story”, he goes on to add that “if you tell someone a story… people will make up the moral of the story in their own mind, they will make a decision by themselves and they don’t feel like somebody pushed something on them”. Since his first year of teaching, his class has “ballooned to over 80 students” and he now teaches across multiple MBA and MSc programmes.
Discussing the course Nico says, “when I teach my students storytelling I always tell them about the hero’s journey, which is an archetypical story structure. At the end of the class I explain to them what a hero is and what a hero does.” And what does a hero do? “The lowest common denominator of all heroes is that they are willing to sacrifice – so to speak – themselves for the greater good. The opposite is not a villain but a bystander”, Nico explains that he believes bystander behaviour has led to bad, unethical business practices and scandals in the business world – “there were too many people who didn’t step in and didn’t act heroically”.
“How can we become more heroic?”
Nico explains that his students were the primary motivator behind his desire to write a book on the role heroes play in society and business. “My students kept asking me, ‘we understand the concept of a hero, but can you elaborate on that and how can we actually become more heroic?'” He realised there wasn’t much literature on the topic and decided to tackle the topic himself.
The Hero Inside aims to motivate people to consider how they can behave more like a hero and improve the world around them: “I believe if there were more heroes then the business world would be way more ethical”. But the book isn’t just for business students or professionals, it is aimed at anyone who is lacking inspiration. He hopes his book will create a ripple effect of people acting positively, even if it only impacts a few people directly then Nico says he will be happy with the contribution his book has made to society. He believes firmly that “we learn from stories… and we learn from heroes. If we believe in the deeds of heroes, then that might create this ripple effect and might lead us onto a more heroic path”.
Such is his quest to spread the universal benefit of the hero’s journey that Nico has recently published a children’s book The Little Asteroid which seeks to convey the message to children. The book is told through the eyes of an asteroid who leaves his orbit to explore what is really out there: the aim is to motivate children to always be curious (a key trait of a hero) and begin their own heroic journey.
Teaching at the Business School: “it felt like coming home”
Nico has found returning to the Business School as a teacher very rewarding, he tells us “you try to be the teacher you always wanted to have” and has relished the opportunity to share his wisdom and experience with the students who sat where he once did, “it almost felt like coming home”. He goes on to discuss the impact lockdown has had on his teaching: “I had the pleasure of teaching both my MSc and MBA classes online… it worked surprisingly well!” He highlights the benefits of using breakout rooms and inviting guest speakers more easily but admits he can’t wait to be back in the classroom.
Sharing a final piece of advice, Nico encourages not only his students but everyone to invite more inquisitiveness into their lives: “always stay curious!”